“When I design for a women, I always think of her naked,” the designer said cheekily. “And I haven’t yet met a girl who wants to have shorter legs.”
French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, famed for his glossy red-soled shoes, defended his decision to go to court with fashion label Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) and its parent company PPR to protect his trademark look on Monday.
Dressed in a smart red checked jacket, jeans and steel-toed leather shoes, Louboutin was in London to open his first UK retrospective to mark the brand’s 20th anniversary at the Design Museum.
Louboutin, who began his career more than 20 years ago, hit the headlines when he called high heels ‘pleasure with pain’, adding, ‘If you can’t walk in them, don’t wear them.’
But at this morning’s preview, he defended the remark, saying: ‘I am concerned with comfort. I know that it’s important but I don’t want to have this evoked in my design.
Louboutin told Reuters that the PPR Group were being extremely unfair in the court battle over red soled shoes.
“They lead out of luxury and they should know that luxury has identity signatures” he said.
A U.S. court rejected a request by Louboutin to stop the sale of YSL shoes that are red all over, including the soles.
“It’s very hypocritical because they themselves…own colours. I just don’t understand how you can say well, you cannot own a specific colour on a specific place when you yourself own different colours.
“I’m a self-made person, I’ve run my own company for 20 years and this big massive group is able to hammer me, with the biggest amount of lawyers. They try to damage me, my company and it’s extremely unfair especially someone that I knew, who I thought was a friend, who just happened to be a very weak person,” he added.
The designer unveiled hundreds of pairs of shoes that he had created over the years, saying the journey had been “emotional” for him.
The designer also defended his previous comments that women who cannot walk in his shoes, shouldn’t wear them and that wearing high heels is both pleasure and pain.
“When I do a shoe, I don’t want to evoke comfort…saying that suffering to be beautiful, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t give you nice smiles, that’s a sure thing.”
The exhibition “Christian Louboutin” features some of the designer’s most successful designs as well as his more creative interpretations such as crystal encrusted ballet slippers with an eight-inch heel for the English National Ballet.
His atelier in Paris was also recreated for the exhibition, displaying shoes and items from his travels that inspired Louboutin to create his collections.
In the corner hangs a blue trapeze that the designer famously likes to dangle from.
The retrospective is aimed at celebrating not only Louboutin’s designs but also his creativity and origins of his inspiration such as the showgirls at Folies Bergère where he worked in his teens.
The exhibition, which will run for 10 weeks, has burlesque star Dita Von Teese star as a stunning centrepiece.
Louboutin, famous for the red soles on his stilettos, has made Von Teese, one of his most fiercely loyal customers, appear in the form of a three-dimensional holographic performance to illustrate Louboutin’s earliest design inspiration – the showgirl.
FROM UNRULY SCHOOLBOY TO COUTURE COBBLER: LOUBOUTIN’S STELLAR RISE TO FAME
Christian Louboutin always wanted to design shoes that ‘looked like jewels’
Louboutin was born in 1963 in Paris, son of a cabinenetmaker father and a mother who stayed at home to look after the boy and his three sisters.
Unruly as a child, he was expelled from school three times and ran away from home aged 12. He never returned, either to home or to school, but began sketching shoes in his early teens.
A regular on the Paris party scene, he made the acquaintance of the likes of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol, becoming part of the in-crowd.
His first job was at the Folies Bergeres cabaret, helping the showgirls backstage – and it was this scene that has provided him with so much inspiration over the years.
There was some formal training – a short stint studying art at the Academie d’Art Roederer. But for Louboutin, it was a visit to the Museum of African Art in Paris that he felt moved to make high heels for women.
At the exhibition he saw a sign in a photograph forbidding women in heels to enter a building for fear of damaging the floor. ‘I wanted to defy that,’ the designer said. ‘I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.’
Solo trips to Egypt and India as a teen provided him with yet more colour and imagery to feed from, and when he returned to Paris in 1981, Louboutin presented his ideas for high heels to top couture houses, landing him a position with Charles Jourdan.
He later went to work as an apprentice in the atelier of Roger Vivier, shoemaker to the Queen and widely regarded as one of the world’s top shoe designers. Later, as a freelance designer, he created shoes for Chanel, YSL and Maude Frizon, before setting up his own company in 1991 in Paris with Princess Caroline of Monaco his first customer.
Since then, he has dressed the feet of such stars as Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dita Von Teese.
He has said his goal is to ‘make a woman’s legs look as long as they can;’ and says of his shoes that they should make a woman look ‘naked’. ‘If a woman is naked and wearing my shoes, she should still look naked.’
‘My work is not about comfort but in the engineering of the shoes there’s something that makes them as comfortable as possible.’
The burlesque performer’s silhouette morphs from a Louboutin shoe to dance on stage before she transforms back into a stiletto.
But despite his fondess for Von Teese, Louboutin, who opened his first boutique in Paris 20 years ago with Princess Caroline of Monaco as his first customer, has always maintained his passion lies not in impressing celebrity, but in creating shoes that are, he says, ‘like jewels’.
He guards his red soles jealously – Pantone 18 Chinese red – and is currently embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with YSL over their use of a red sole.
Elsewhere though, he says it matters not if others use colour on their soles. Speaking today, Louboutin also gave his blessing to Topshop boss Sir Philip Green’s daughter Chloe, who has designed green-heeled shoes for her father’s store.
‘It has her name on the shoe. There’s nothing wrong with that. I wish her luck,’ he said.
He said it was ‘a bit emotional’ to see his first UK exhibition because his work has been so inextricably linked to his personal life.